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Psychological challenges of playing in the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2021

I am very much looking forward to the start of the 2021 IPL tournament, beginning on Friday 9th April with the Mumbai Indians playing the Royal Challengers Bangalore in Chennai. Though it will be interesting to see how the players cope with the restrictions currently in place with matches being played behind closed doors. It is at least a step closer to normal with games being played in India rather than in the United Arab Emirates (as in 2020), but the games are going to feel very different with the absence of the often very vocal, and very large Indian crowds.

The last 12 months has been an interesting one for many of the players who are playing in the 2021 IPL, many of whom travel the world playing in T20 tournaments. The restrictions and rules in place have varied from competition to competition and also based upon the level of local Covid-19 infections at the time of the tournament in the host country. This has meant that over the past 12-months players have played to full, partially full, and empty stadiums as well as sometimes in neutral venues.

The lack of normality to playing, and restrictions to movement when not playing can have the potential to negatively impact upon player’s emotional state and general stress levels. These changes to normal life and normal routines could well have taken a toll on the coping capacity of individual players to deal with stress and pressure. This could mean that the ability of players to cope with the demands of playing in the tournament is reduced.

Adapting to the challenges of playing without a crowd will be an interesting one for the players in the tournament. There are a number of unknowns about the performance domain. Such as what will it be like playing in empty stadiums? Teams, and players are so used to interacting with the home crowd, that they are probably not really aware of the impact it has. How will the players achieve their optimal performance state? How can they achieve the required arousal level? Are they able to focus effectively? There might be a bigger job for coaches, other support staff, and leaders in the team to help the players to achieve this. There could be other issues too, comments from other players and support staff will become more audible without the crowd, will the umpires behave differently? Will players act differently towards the umpires?

Sport and performance psychologists know that it is often the fear of the unknown that induces much of the performance stress and anxieties experienced in sport. As a result, it is crucial that IPL Franchises and coaching teams go out of their way to work with players on what to expect and to help to prepare them for the environment in which they are going to perform, in this case the lack of crowds whilst playing in very large stadia. Also, it is crucial for players to understand their mental state for optimal performance and to understand what techniques and tools they can now use to achieve these states. Understanding that it (performance) will be different, and as such refined and revised preparation routines will be crucial to ensure optimal player performance outcomes is going to be critical.

I am very much looking forward to watching the cricket and how players cope!

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